J: Jumping the Gun

When you first finish a first draft, it can be easy to think it’s the best thing in the world. You can’t wait to share it with everyone you know and you immediately set about to editing, announcing to everyone that you’re going to publish this thing and maybe start amassing funds for an editor…

And then you look at the book several months later and you just ask your younger self why you ever thought this was good. And after you’ve bought a gorgeous cover and already hired an editor (not the kind of editor you needed, on top of everything else), you decide this is in absolutely no shape to be published in the remotely near future and your only apology is a collection of short stories.

Yeah. This was me. My goal in this post is to help you avoid falling into the same holes I did.

Set it aside

DO NOT go straight from first draft to second. Just don’t. You need to set it aside for at least a month (optimally longer) and come back to it with fresh eyes. Don’t look at it while you’re still on a high with it or you’ll be blind to all its flaws and your edit will be entirely ineffective.

Hire an editor after you’ve taken several passes of your own

Make your story as good as you can on your own before hiring an editor. Don’t give them a disaster to unravel for you. That giant mess is your job; the editor is to catch the issues you only don’t notice because you wrote it and you know things the reader doesn’t. Your editor shouldn’t be a crutch.

I sent House of Mages to an editor after just one rewrite because I knew it was a disaster, intending for the editor to point out all the issues and tell me how to fix them. As someone now going into editing myself, and someone who has had short stories edited multiple times since House of Mages, this is not how an editor is supposed to work, nor is it how you should hope for them to work. An editor will point out your issues, they may suggest a couple of ways to solve the problem to get you started, but in the end you’re the author and you’re the one doing the heavy lifting and deciding what does or doesn’t work for your story.

Communicate with your editor (also, price isn’t everything)

Research editors, pick the best for you, and don’t just jump at the cheapest offer you get. I don’t mean anything negative toward the editor of House of Mages at all, she’s a wonderful person and she did well at what she did, but I took her offer to edit cheap without talking to her at all about the process in advance or knowing what type of editing she was doing. I assumed she’d be a developmental editor, not yet fully grasping that the different editing styles do not all come as a package deal in most circumstances, and ended up with a copy-editor. Always communicate with your editor.

Don’t announce that you’re going to publish until you’re sure you want to publish

This should probably be at least the second or third draft. I still haven’t announced to any of my friends (except my best friend) that I’m planning on publishing a novel later this year, because I don’t want to end up reprising House of Mages and disappoint everyone twice in a row. I’m quite sure I’m going to publish this novel in the fall, and I’m working to get it polished (the first draft was far better than House of Mages, being a year younger, which helps), and I have a whole schedule laid out for getting it ready on time, but I haven’t shared it yet.

Likewise, don’t buy a cover until you’re sure you want to publish

Do not spend $80 on a lovely cover if you’re not 100% sure you’re actually going to publish your book. The cover is great, but what use is it without a book? At best, if you let this story go you might come back to it and be able to use the cover. At worst, you’ve wasted a cover (and however much money you spent on it) and it can never be used by anyone else, or you do come back to the story and by the time you’re done rewriting it the cover totally doesn’t fit anymore. I’m hoping I’ll end up in the first camp with House of Mages’ cover, but I don’t hold out a ton of hope for that.

Allow yourself plenty of time

Preparing a book for publication is a lot of work. There are multiple rounds of edits to be done, there’s a cover to be made, a gripping synopsis to be written, marketing graphics to design, giveaways to plan, proofs to be checked, etc., etc., etc. So give yourself a lot of time. The pieces that you depend on someone else for particularly need a buffer space because you never know what may come up. You’ll probably want to give yourself at least six months if not a year between completing the first draft and publication (at least early on, before you have a system down pat). It’s a long time, it can feel like an eternity to wait, but your book will be the better for it.

Be aware that you’re your own worst critic

Your story is probably crap at the first draft stage. I’m just gonna be brutally honest. It’s probably crap unless you’re Wonder Writer. But it’s also probably not quite as bad as you think. (Quite.) Get several readers (I’d say about 3-7 is probably a good number) who you know will be honest with you and tell you what needs work and what needs to stay. This would probably be a beta-reader stage, generally once the first and maybe second draft is done (at least in my experience). These people will help you see your story from a new perspective, whether they’re pointing out issues you hadn’t noticed or pointing out good things that you’ve been blind to after editing for too long and beginning to loathe your story. (If you do start to absolutely loathe your story, find the parts you do like – tiny as they may be – think about those, and take a break for a while. Editing when you hate your story does not go well.)

What is the worst writing mistake you’ve made? How did you grow from it?

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